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  • Alistair Tait

Portrush Return A No Brainer

No one inside the game of golf was surprised yesterday when the R&A announced The Open would return to Royal Portrush in 2025, just six years after staging the 148th Open Championship over the Dunluce links.

Why wouldn’t the R&A want to cash in again on one of the most successful championships of recent times?

There may be those who argue the time frame is too short, that the governing body should have perhaps opted for another venue: Muirfield, since the championship hasn’t been staged there since 2013; maybe Royal Lytham, with it last staging the 2012 Open; Turnberry?

We know the answer to Turnberry, which hasn’t staged The Open since 2009. Although it remains among the courses that stage The Open, it will be a while until it stages another Open for obvious reasons, one more obvious than others.

There is no rhyme or reason on timing for returning to an Open venue. The exception is St Andrews. Since 1990 there has been an unofficial policy of returning every five years. However, nothing is set in stone. That’s as it should be. Why would the R&A tie itself into a set rota? R&A Chief Executive Martin Slumbers is on record as saying he doesn’t like the term “rota," preferring the word “pool” instead. Currently that pool includes Carnoustie, Muirfield, Royal Birkdale, Royal Liverpool, Royal Lytham & St Annes, Royal Portrush, Royal St George’s, Royal Troon, St Andrews, and Turnberry.

Slumbers is also on record as a fan of taking the championship on a more regular basis to courses that attracts the biggest crowds. In February last year he said:

“We are looking at where we can get larger crowds. We internally have this desire for The Open to be one of the world’s greatest sporting events, and I have said a number of times that big time sports need big time crowds.”

Of course, bigger crowds means more money the R&A can invest back into the game.

“There is no doubt that we have great aspirations for the game,” Slumbers added. “The R&A needs to invest more and more into our sport. We have committed in this decade to doubling what we invested in the last decade. The game needs investment at the amateur level. We talk about money in golf but most of that is at the 1% of the professional game and we are one of the largest providers of it. So there is an absolute demand for us to invest more.
“All of this is putting pressure on making sure we drive up the revenues of the Open.”

That’s why the R&A is returning to Portrush so soon. The 2019 championship which crowned Shane Lowry as champion golfer of the year attracted the biggest crowds outside of St Andrews in Open history. Some 237,750 fans flocked to the course beside the Giants Causeway two years ago. The championship injected over £100 million into the Northern Irish economy according to Sheffield Hallam University’s Sport Industry Research Centre.

It also injected a fair few quid into R&A coffers to invest back into the game. Tucked-away Turnberry can’t even come close to the above figures. Approximately 130,000 fans attended the 2009 championship as Stewart Cink played the role of the Grinch who stole Christmas when he broke the hearts of most golf fans by defeating Tom Watson in a playoff, ruining arguably the greatest story in sports history.

Returning to Royal Portrush so soon is the ultimate no brainer decision for the R&A.

#JustSaying: “To me, The Open is the tournament I would come to if I had to leave a month before and swim over.” Lee Trevino

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